Day 1: Apr 25 (Thu) Departure from Honolulu
We checked-in at Hawaiian Airlines Inter Island terminal. Everyone was on time, so was the flight, and it was 10 hour 14 minute flight.
Lunch was served 90minutes after the departure and we enjoyed Chicken, rice, potato salad and cookie. A snack of Korean Ramen was served 5 hours after the departure, 1 hour prior to the arrival, egg salad and Ham/cheese sandwich were served.
Day 2: Apr 26 (Fri) Arrival day Seoul
We arrived at Incheon airport at 7:30pm and followed the arrival process, then did our currency exchange. We were met by our English speaking guide whom escorted us to coach bus for transfer to Center Mark hotel Seoul which is conveniently located for shops, restaurants, especially for Lantern Festival site.
After a long flight, we were happy to go to bed…..good night!
Day 3: Apr 27 (Sat) Seoul/Palace/War Memorial
After our buffet breakfast, we headed to nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace.
First, we were lucky enough to see the Changing of the Guards. It takes place twice a day in front of the main gate of Gyeongbokgung, and guards are all dressed in traditional uniform/costume which is very impressive to watch – must see!
Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty and it is the largest of the five grand palaces.
Next, we visited National Palace Museum of Korea located within palace ground which houses over 40,000 artifacts, treasures, and displays record, architecture, clothing and much more.
We continued to National Folk Museum of Korea, again located within the palace ground and it utilizes replicas of historical objects to illustrate Korean history and life style of Korean people.
Today, our lunch was popular Korean dish Bulgogi and variety of side dishes. At our lunch, we celebrated two tour members birthday. “ Happy Birthday!”
Next, we were off to War Memorial of Korea. Located on the old site of Army Headquarters, it was built to commemorate victims in the wars. There are rows of marble monuments inscribed with the names of those died during the Korean War and Vietnam War and one of our tour members was able to locate their relative’s name.
We returned to hotel and enjoyed dinner on our own at near by hotel.
Day 4: Apr28 (Sun) Seoul- Taean Tulip Festival
After our breakfast, we were off to western side of Korea tour. First stop was Hwaseong Fortress. It was built by King Jeongjo to house and honor the remains of his father whom was executed by his own father. The fortress surrounds the center of Suwon, and it was designated as a World heritage Site by UNESCO IN 1997. We took a nice and easy trolley ride through the Fortress and Haenggung Palace.
Next stop was anxiously awaited lunch! We enjoyed family style Korean cuisine with many side dishes.
After the lunch, we headed to a strawberry farm for fun filled strawberry picking ! We had 40minutes to pick, all you can eat and some to take it back to hotel. Strawberry was so sweet and we ate so much that our mouth was colored in red.
After the strawberry farm, we headed to the Taean Tulip Festival.
The Taeon Tulip festival is known as the Taean World Tulip Summit and one of the world’s Top 5 tulip festivals in the world. The festival ground has more than 1.5 million tulips planted and it is rare opportunity to see many varieties of tulips in one place. Flowers are so colorful in yellow, red, white pink violet, and so vibrant and it take your breath away!
Tulips have been planted to form different shapes which you can view from above.
There are other flowers like daffodils, lilies, pansies, lupinus and other spring flowers, even Cherry blossoms!
There are markets inside for Korean made local goods and snack stall, food stand as well as indoor buffet within the festival ground to satisfy and accommodate many visitors.
We checked-in to Hotel Mudrin with ocean view rooms.
Day 5: Apr 29 (Mon) Taean – Jeonju
Jeonju is known for the Hanok Heritage Village with traditional houses, craft shops and it was chosen as a creative cities for Gastronomy as part of UNESCO’s Creative cities network.
In Jeonju, we had a Hanbok Wearing experience. Hanbok is a traditional Korean dress and it is known for vibrant colors and simple lines without pocket. We all dressed in Hanbok with hair accessories and some were dressed in Kings and Queens. It was fun cultural experience!
We had another hands on experience which was Bibimbap making. Bibimbap is a Korean dish which means mixing various ingredients with rice, and Jeonju is famous for their versions of Bibimbap and this dish were listed at number 40 on the world’s 50 most delicious foods, poll compiled by CNN Travel. We made our own creation of Bibimbap, which we enjoyed for lunch.
Next stop was Jeonju Traditional Hanji Center for Hands on Paper making. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with us and it was raining hard. Some of the members decided to omit the activity and check in to the hotel, and some of us took advantage of this activity and made Korean Traditional Hanji Paper for souvenirs.
Day 6: Apr 30 (Tue) Busan-Jagalchi Fish Market
After the buffet breakfast and hotel check out, we were off to Busan.
We had early lunch in Busan, Seafood buffet which included from crabs to ice cream. After this sumptuous lunch, we visited the famous Jagalchi Fish Market nearby.
Jagalchi Market is the largest seafood market in South Korea and it offers huge varieties of live fishes and dried fishes to dried seaweed and much more. We had an opportunity to see some strange fishes inside the rows of tanks.
From the fish market we walked over to BIFF square. In 1996 this modern movie district was named BIFF SQUARE and it is a cultural tourist attraction promoting the Korea’s film industry which includes Hand-Printed movie celebrities from around the world. BIFF leads to Gukje market & Nampodong market where filled with shops and restaurants, food stand where you can enjoy variety of street food. Prices are reasonable and you can still bargain! Gukje market began during the Korean War, for a war refugee to make living.
After the shopping, we took a short bus ride to Samgwangsa Temple.
Samgwangsa Temple Lantern Festival is a must-see, when you visit Korea in May and it attracts many visitors from around the world. Thousand of colorful lanterns are strung up across the temple which is an awesome site.
We had delicious seafood shabu-shabu for dinner which we enjoyed greatly.
We checked-in to Lotte Hotel Busan which is so convenient for shops & restaurants and it is connected to subway with more shops. Checked in for good night sleep.
Day 7: May 01 (Wed) Gyeongju – Silla Kingdom
After our buffet breakfast and check-out of the hotel, we left Busan for Gyeongju, which was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Silla.
First we visited the Gyeongju National Museum, which was founded in 1945 and upgraded to its current name in 1975. Museum is going through expansion since then. The museum contains important items of National cultural heritage including Emille Bell, which is said to ring with the sound of a child. Also, several silla crowns and many artifacts which excavated from Anapji pond and Hwangnyongsa Temple site are on display.
Next stop was Tumuli Park and Cheonmachong.
Tumuli park consist of 23 mounds of earth, shaped like domes and three groups of Royal tombs. Inside the park, we visited Cheonmachong-Heavenly Horse tomb which was built in Silla style for unknown Silla Kingdom. It contained a lacquered wooden coffin with burial goods placed around it and a total of 11,500 artifacts were recovered.
Our lunch was buffet style with many different dishes to choose from which we really enjoyed. After our sumptuous lunch, we visited the Gyeongju Folk Craft Village.
The Gyeongju Craft Village was established in 1986 to preserve and develop crafts of Silla Kingdom and traditional craft artisans are allowed to sell directly to the public.
We checked-in to Gyeongju Hilton where lake front property with beautiful flowers and trees which we enjoyed the nature.
For dinner, we enjoyed Pork BBQ where you cook on your own at the table.
Day 8: May 02 (Thu) Gyeongju – Euiseong-Andong-Mt Seorak
After buffet breakfast and hotel check out, we headed north.
Our first stop was at Applease Apple Wine Factory and farm where we had label photo taking, then bottling, finished with encapsulating. Finished product was our own personalized apple wine to take back home! After the wine making, we were escorted to kitchen for apple pancake making. Pancake was made with farm’s own apple juice and apple pieces which were fresh and very delicious!
Next stop was at Hahoe Folk Village. Before the village tour, we had lunch at local restaurant and enjoyed shoyu chicken meal with many side dishes. After the lunch, we were off to a village tour.
Hahoe Folk Village was established in 16th century by Ryu clan of Pungsan and it is listed with UNESCO as a World Heritage Site where you can really experience and learn old Korea. The village maintains the old architectural style, with tile-roof residences for aristocrat, and thatched-roof for servants home. The village is famous for the Hahoe Mask Dance.
After the village tour, we headed for Mt Seorak.
Our dinner tonight was Italian food for a change, and we all enjoyed the meal very much!
After the dinner, short ride to Kensington Stars hotel right by the park and checked-in for good nights sleep.
Day 9: May 03 (Fri) Mt.Seorak-Daepohang Port-Seoul
As our routine, after buffet breakfast and hotel check out we headed to Seorak National Park.
Mt Seorak is the third highest mountain in South Korea and one of Korea’s most beautiful mountain, which UNESCO designated as a biosphere reserve.
The park contains splendid valleys, water falls, rare animal and plants, also a Bronze Buddha, temple and much more. We rode on a cable car up to the top with breathtaking views of the mountains.
After the park visit, it was time for seafood lunch, fish stew and grilled fish with side dishes at Daepohang Port.
After the lunch, we headed back to Seoul.
First stop in Seoul was Kimchi making! Tables were set for us with vegetable and all the ingredients needed to make Kimchi. We all wore apron and made own Kimchi following instructor, and it was fun!
After the Kimchi making we stopped at Dongdaemun Market. It is a large complex and divided into five shopping districts which covers 10 blocks, 26 shopping mall with many specialty shops and manufacturers. You can find silk, fabrics, clothes and shoes, leather goods, electronics and much more.
We checked-in to the Center Mark Hotel for second time, and walked over to restaurant Ashley for a buffet dinner which offered varieties of dishes, Italian food, Korean food, western food and much more.
Day 10: May 04 (Sat) DMZ-Lotus Lantern Festival Parade
This morning, we visited one of the highlights of this tour, the DMZ. In the park, we were transferred to park bus, instead of our coach bus.
First we visited Imjingak Park…it is located on the bank of the Imjing river, 7 km from the Military Demarcation Line in Paju South Korea, and it is the last village before DMZ. It was built in 1972 to console those from both sides who are unable to return to their home town.
The DMZ is 160 miles long and approximately 2.5 miles wide, and large numbers of troops are stationed in both sides of the line to guard against possible aggression. The Zone separating both sides is demilitarized, but beyond the strips is one of the most heavily armed borders in the world.
We drove by Unification Village where 162 families, total of 453 residents make a living, and they sell local farm produce at agricultural marketing center.
The Dora Observatory is on the South Korea side, located on top of Mt Dora and it is the part of Korea closest to the North. At newly built modern observatory, you can catch a rare glimpse of the North Korea with binoculars.
The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel was discovered in 1978 and it is one mile long, 6 feet 5 inch high, 6 feet 11 inches wide with a 240 feet depth below ground. We were lucky enough to ride on a train, with padded seat and a helmet, other wise one will have to walk to the tunnel which is quite steep.
The Dorasan Station is located approximately 650meters from the southern boundary of Korean Demilitarized Zone. In 2007 freight train began traveling into North Korea taking materials, and returning with finished products. However on 2008 North Korean government closed the border crossing and it faced repeated closure and opening.
After the bus tour of the park, we had lunch/snack on own at the park.
On the way to Seoul, we made special stop at Duty Free Shop for ladies to purchase famous Korean cosmetics.
Also, we stopped at Namdaemun Market which is a food and shopping street. You will find many street food and many stalls with abundance of merchandise, clothes, accessory, luggage, tools and much more! It is very vibrant, bustling market and very popular with local and visitors.
This evening was the highlight of the tour, Lotus Lantern Festival Parade!
Since our hotel was conveniently located for festival, we walked to parade site, passing through Insadong market street. We had reserved seats with lotus lantern on each seats for souvenirs and it was great for viewing and photo taking.
The Lotus lantern Festival is a celebration of the Buddha’s birthday wishing the world peace and happiness and originated in the Silla era over 1200 years ago. The streets near temples in central Seoul were lit with thousands of lotus lanterns, and it is so bright, colorful and very festive sights which attract thousands of visitors from around the world.
The festival started with Buddhist Cheer Rally-energy filled event with spectacular dance movement and music band, then many groups of traditional Korean dance performance with traditional costume Hanbok. After many performance, came the highlight of the festival, Lotus Lantern Parade!
We watched countless beautifully decorated lighted floats from Korea and many Asian countries and we were mesmerized by it. It is a large-scale parade which is a must-see sight!
We walked back to the hotel, and had a good night sleep.
Day 11: May 05 (Sun) Free day-Lotus Lantern Festival Activities
Today is a free day, so we started leisurely. Some of us took a nice stroll over to Myeongdong Market and spent several hours there!
In March 2000, Myeongdong was designated as a special tourism promotion area. Myeongdong market is prime shopping district with department store, shopping malls and many independent shops and restaurants.
Korea is known for excellent cosmetics and there are over 1000 Korean brands of cosmetics, and shopping enthusiasts flock to this market for latest skin care. Myeongdong market is one of the best place in Seoul for traditional Korean delicacies and you will find many street food stalls serving seafood to meats & vegetables…Korean egg toast, spiral cut potato, Lobster with cheese to Ice cream for desert. Also great place to shop for fashion clothing, shoes, bags, fashion accessories to electronics.
Myeongdong market has everything you can think of and you can still bargain for the price.
It is a shopper’s Paradise!
A few people took the opportunity to watch the “JUMP” non verbal, comic martial arts performance which they really enjoyed, plus Myeongdong market shopping.
At Jogyesa temple near by our hotel, there were approximately 130 booths with traditional cultural events with many hands-on experience. Just to name few…various type of lantern making, paper flower making, temple food tasting, folk games and many more to enjoy and learn about Buddhist culture. Exhibitions of lantern & floats were displayed in various parks and temples in Seoul for 10 days for people to enjoy and marvel at Korea’s traditional Hanji paper which used to make floats and lanterns.
The Grand Finale featured a mini lantern parade by lantern performers group near Insadong where our hotel was located.
I recommend that everyone experience this festival!
Dinner on own, and packing for next day departure.
Day 12: May 06(Mon)Departure day Seoul – Honolulu
Our hotel check out time was extended to 1pm, so another day for leisurely start.
Some people returned to Myeongdong market for last minute shopping, and some just relaxed at the hotel until check out time.
At 1:30 pm, we boarded the bus and visited MBC (MUNHWA Broadcasting Corporation) World. MBC is a public major national TV network in Korea. The first Korean drama was created by MBC and their shows have been exported to different countries and “Dae Jang Geum” was shown in 91countries around the world. At MBC Broadcast Theme Park Tour, we had an opportunity to become the protagonist of TV shows through holographic technology, and with 360 degree gear VR machine things unfold before your eye as if you are in different world.
After the tour, we had to say “Good bye” to our four lucky friends whom staying few more days in Seoul for more shopping.
On the way to Incheon airport, we made a quick stop at souvenir and gift market for last minute shopping.
We checked in at Hawaiian airlines group counter, then followed departure process (security and immigration). It was easy process especially all in the same floor. Incheon airport is huge modern airport with hundreds of shops as well as Duty Free Shops, and restaurants and fast food eatery. It also provides free Korean traditional craft hands-on while you are waiting for your flights, and one of our members made aKorean traditional small table.
After short delay, we boarded the plane for home bound! Return flight was eight houra, much shorter than outbound flight due to the tail wind.
One hour after the departure, dinner was served. A snack was served one hour before our landing. Some enjoyed the movies, and game, and some just took a short nap.
We landed in Honolulu on time then followed arrival process and said “Good Bye” to tour members.
The Lantern festival is really something to see, and everyone should have an opportunity to experience this special event.
Please join us on future JTB Korea tours for a first-hand experience!
By Sumie Consillio
Please contact us anytime for information about future tours around the world!
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